Come On New York, End the Mental Health Stigma
The struggle is real in New York. Mental Health America ranked New York among the top five states with people who struggle the most with mental illness.
The New York State Department of Health says that one in five New Yorkers shows symptoms of a mental disorder each year. The next time you're around a large group of friends, family, or co-workers take a look around. One in five of those people could be struggling and you likely don't even know.
I grew up in a generational military family where we didn't talk about our emotions. As a matter of fact, I can remember many times when I'd say something like, "That really hurt my feelings," and the adult reply would be "Your feelings don't matter."
As I grew up, I learned how to put on a mask and hide my struggles from those living outside my four walls because that's the way I was raised to be. We didn't let others know of our struggles. We didn't let down our wall of happiness for others to see the darkness on the other side. We didn't look for pity and we didn't ever admit that maybe we struggled with mental health issues. We were just good little soldiers who "manned" up.
As an adult, I started to find myself questioning the mental stability not only of myself but also of my family members and came to the conclusion that many of us are just hot messes. I know that I am - most of the time.
I hate that people say talking about mental health is just a new fad and that those who bring up their struggles are only looking for attention. I have to believe for many, like me, who grew up being told to hide it, the fact that others are openly talking about mental health feels like a wave of relief because we can now share what we've kept secret for all of our lives and won't be looked at like we're monsters.
I've always worn my heart on my sleeve. I've always been deeply emotional, always either very high and happy or very low and crying. I move at two speeds - super fast and juggling a million things all at the same time and with efficiency and creativity or slower, still getting things done but with the feeling of such heaviness, almost like someone has handed me a stack of work to do while hanging chains from my body.
I used to think that having the job that I do, in the entertainment industry, was a Godsend because it is my job to make others laugh and feel good and that was a fantastic cover and helped to hide the inside struggles and if I could hide what was really going on inside, nobody would know, which was what I was taught as a child was the ultimate goal.
A friend of mine, also in a high-profile job, recently revealed her struggles to the public and when I wrote to tell her how proud I am of her, she said that she's done pretending and that there are so many struggling in silence but they're scared to raise their voices, and that we must raise ours. So, I'm joining my friend in ending my silence and in speaking up.
After my son was born, a fun new ailment decided to plague me. In addition to the high highs and the low lows, anxiety decided it wanted to be my best friend. There have been times in the middle of a perfectly normal day when anxiety will want to remind me that it's there and for no good reason. It'll make my heart race and stomach ache, and occasionally, if it rolls in when I'm extra tired, I'll get a temporary stutter.
A few years ago when people started to open up and talk about mental health struggles I thought I was in a safe space and could mention mine. I was at a weeknight casual get-together with church people when I asked for prayer about my struggles. The flippant "yeah, we'll pray for you" was thrown and then, I got an entire lecture about how the reason I was struggling was that my faith was weak.
What? For real? I just let down a wall that had been steady in place for over 30 years and admitted for the first time in my life to people outside of my family about my struggle and was told it was because I wasn't a good enough Christian. Bogus. They knew nothing about me or about the strength of my faith.
I'm telling you all of this because I want you to know that even people who seem like they've got it all together are often falling apart inside - especially those who may always seem happy or are always busy. Hi, have you met me? It's possible to struggle and still function.
I'm telling you this because I want you to know that even if you struggle with depression or anxiety or any other mental health issue, it does NOT make you less of a person. You are NOT less of a mother, daughter, sister, wife, friend, or employee. It does not mean that your faith isn't as strong as it should be - that's garbage and nobody else has the right to judge your personal faith.
I'm telling you this because although I'm not a believer in wallowing in self-pity and do believe that we have the strength inside of us to take baby steps every day and to look for the good in all situations, sometimes those steps and looking for the good in all things can leave us physically exhausted. Keep going. Don't give up. Keep moving forward.
We're here on earth to help each other but sometimes we need to work on bettering ourselves first. I do think so much of the reason for so many mental health struggles is because the world is a less kind place and because so many of us are spread so thin taking care of everything and everyone else that we just crack. I know when I'm in the throws of my sadness or anxiety, a gentle smile, a soft hug, or a non-judgemental friend to spew my feelings out to makes everything feel so much better.
Be kind. We're all struggling in one way or another. Just be kind, darn it.
If you don't know where to turn, if you feel like you don't have anyone to talk to, or are ashamed about the struggles you live with - help is available in a variety of forms.
Text HOME to 741741 from any phone, anywhere, anytime. A trained Crisis Counselor will receive your text and respond from a secure online platform.
The national Substance Abuse and Mental Health hotline is also available any time of the day or night. Call or text 988 or if you'd rather chat online, visit https://988lifeline.org/.